Siddhartha Roy named graduate student of the year

Siddhartha “Sid” Roy, of Varanasi, India, is doing his part to change the world.

Roy, the 2017 Virginia Tech Graduate School student of the year, is a doctoral candidate in the College of Engineering’s Civil and Environmental Engineering program.

As student leader and communications director of Virginia Tech’s Flint water study research team, Roy led part of a scientific and humanitarian battle alongside Flint residents to uncover environmental injustice and a public health crisis.

“Sid is one of the most inspiring, dedicated, and socially minded engineering students I have ever encountered,” said Marc Edwards, Roy’s advisor and University Distinguished Professor, in his nomination of Roy. “I would be very surprised if Sid does not change the world in some small yet very important way.”

Over the past two years, Roy has traveled to Flint to sample water from homes of residents, helped with preparing and processing of lead-test kits, launched, and raised more than $100,000 for the team’s research.

Currently, Roy is facilitating a lead-in-water sampling at 10 public schools located in North Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia.

Roy’s graduate research work on erosion corrosion of copper and nonleaded brass plumbing materials used in potable water infrastructure will help better understand and mitigate premature leaks or failures in drinking water-carrying pipes, plumbing fittings, and pump impellers. The failures carry a financial burden of hundreds of millions of dollars’ in repair and replacement of infrastructure. Roy’s work seeks to alleviate the growing national problem.

With Engineers Without Borders, a student-run organization, Roy helped design and implement a wastewater system for a boarding school in Xix, Guatemala, which houses more than 150 students and staff. The new wastewater system, still in the process of being built, will provide a clean environment and relieve potential contamination issues for groundwater in the area. Roy wrote grant proposals to fund the work and raised more than $26,000 from corporate partners Boeing, Bechtel, and Pratt & Whitney.

Like his heroes, Edwards and science giant Carl Sagan, Roy is passionate about science communication. He produced a mini-documentary on the role of environmental engineering in the Flint water crisis to inspire young scientists and students. The video won a national award from the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors.

In Roy’s 2016 TEDxVirginiaTech talk, he used Flint, Michigan, as the case study, explaining how bad science and unethical decisions by scientists and engineers resulted in societal harm. He further imagined a growing cohort of heroic scientists and engineers who strive to do science in the public interest and work with a mindset embedded in ethics, self-reflection, and quality science.

As social politics editor of the The Interloper, Virginia Tech’s LGBT magazine, Roy entered a bold, new space of human expression and struggle, tackling complex issues like acceptance of gay young men in college fraternities and the multitude of sexual orientations of people in the college community.

“In my editorial role, I have gained a new appreciation for diversity and its inherently unifying theme of shared humanity,” said Roy. “Armed with this sensitivity, I actively attempt to reject all forms of bias, prejudice, and discrimination.”

Upon graduation, Roy plans to continue working in the field of water while using his communication skills to positively impact the evolving public health-development-drinking water issue.

“I derive meaning from the work I do, and there is nothing more fulfilling than being able to make a difference in the lives of your fellow human beings,” Roy said. “What else would you get up in the morning for?”